Part 2

Well, this is a fine freakin’ mess I’ve gotten myself into!

Mickey sat on the upper bunk in the jail cell, his back against the wall in true con position. He willed his body and face to show no emotion and managed to keep his heart rate less than one hundred beats per minute but he wasn’t sure that his eyes weren’t radiating his fury.

The deputy that met him at the fight scene had cuffed him before he could explain what had happened. Demanding to be told why he was being taken into custody, Mickey was put through the booking procedure. He was fingerprinted, given a shower and a change of clothing, then thrown into a cell and told to wait for the sheriff.

Once he was set in the cell, the manacles had been removed and it took everything he had to remain in control. His knuckles were stinging but as he flexed his hands he knew that nothing was broken. His nose had stopped bleeding and although his jaw was tender and throbbing, all his teeth were still solidly anchored.

Although the odds were six against one, and he had found himself more than up to taking them down, the fight was unsatisfying to him. He had lost control and had permitted some of the anger that had been building up since his first day in Leavenworth to seep out of him as he fought.

Keeping your mind clear of all emotion was the smart way to engage in battle and Mickey knew that he had thrown himself into the brawl like a crazy man, rather than a savvy professional.

Setting his gaze on one point on the puke green wall through the bars, he couldn’t help but think that every jail had the same smell of piss, ammonia, hopelessness and desperation. The air around him reeked – the same as in his cell at Leavenworth.

Damn it. ‘Looking out for number one’ and ‘Don’t care about anyone else’ were supposed to be his new mottoes and look at him, a few days out of prison and here he was again, back behind bars. He had to be the only goddamn man to stop a double rape only to be put in jail for it.

A strapping, mean-eyed hulk of a deputy stepped in front of Mickey’s cell and stood there mute, his body language screaming hatred.

"I’m supposed to get a phone call." Mickey said.

"You don’t get diddly, until Sheriff Conroy says so." The deputy’s voice was a slow drawl, but his eyes glittered with anger as he continued to study Mickey from outside of the bars.

No way was he going to be shoved in a corner and forgotten! "Where the hell is this sheriff? I’ve been in this stink hole of a cell for hours and I want my phone call now!"

"Sheriff Conroy’s on his way now, fella. You’ll be able to ask him for your damn phone call soon." With that, the deputy shot one last look of loathing toward Mickey and sauntered away from the cell.

Something here wasn’t right. Mickey recognized that any lawman wouldn’t be happy about any altercations that happened on his watch, and he took it for granted that outsiders in such a small town wouldn’t be welcomed with open arms. But Mickey had stopped six males from attacking and trying to rape two women. Even in a small backwater town a man who came to a woman’s rescue wouldn’t garner as much hostility as he’d come across since his arrest.

After he had been cuffed, he had cooperated with the locals. He had even given them his name and permitted himself to be fingerprinted. So, what the hell was going on?

Mickey swallowed his growing sense of anxiety and tried to recapture some of the better moments of the past few days, but all the memories were touched with the bitterness that his freedom might be over again, with him doing more unearned time.

He switched tactics and went back to keeping himself occupied the way he had over the past nine months of prison. During the times he was put into solitary, without books, fresh air or light, he had fallen back on his SEAL training. He did what they had been taught to do if captured or tortured, and used his mind to create a safe place where nothing and no one could reach him.

He was fishing in a stream with a vast untouched woodland spreading out before him as far as he could see. He felt the sun on his face and heard the gurgling of the water; he felt the weight of the fishing rod in his hands and the slight tug of the line as a fish flirted with the bait. The setting was perfect.

Strangely though, today he saw another fisherman off in the distance, and he felt somehow comforted. As he peered at the distant figure he suddenly realized that it looked like …

The clank of the opening cell door brought Mickey fully to attention. The deputy was back with another man who Mickey could only hope was the sheriff.

A tall, gray haired man entered. He was dressed in uniform and his deeply leathered face shouted out a life spent outdoors. He was in his fifties: short-cropped hair, lean and long legged. The man’s eyes were a cold blue, made even lighter by the surrounding tanned skin. He waved away the deputy and stood in front of Mickey’s cot.

"I’m Sheriff Conroy," he peered at Mickey’s face, as if trying to read him, "You looked like you was a million miles away from here." He lifted one shaggy white eyebrow, "You doing okay?"

Mickey turned his eyes to the sheriff and kept his voice neutral. "I’m doing as fine as a man who’s locked up for no reason can do."

Conroy regarded Mickey, still sizing him up. "You put three teenaged boy into the hospital and two others had to get fifty-five stitches between them. I’d say that there sure is a good reason for locking you up."

The stupidity of the situation brought bile to Mickey’s throat and he took a moment to swallow it down. "Do you usually lock up men who protect women against mob rape?"

Conroy looked surprised. "What women would that be? No attempted rape has been mentioned. Just the fact that a man, who was released from the military prison three days ago, made himself into a one-man combat unit and tried to massacre a bunch of high school boys."

Mickey felt rage well up in his chest, "What kind of bullshit charges are you trying to slap on me?"

"No need for that kind of language," the sheriff squared his jaw, "I’m telling you what accusations are being made against you. We have your history and we have six boys who are all swearing that you forced their car off the road and commenced to whip the tarnation out of them – for no good reason."

"Lying sons of bitches!" Mickey snapped back, "Those boys were going to beat up and rape two girls from the roadhouse, you know it and so do the boys."

Sheriff Conroy frowned, "I don’t know no such thing. The only complaints I have are from the boys. There ain’t no evidence of any girls at the incident."

The walls were closing in on him. Mickey could feel the room getting darker and airless. "Well, I’m telling you," he managed to get out, "they were in the roadhouse earlier tonight and the drunken kids were bothering them there. Ask the bartender and the waitress, Maryann. They’ll tell you."

Conroy nodded, "I’ll just do that. I know Maryann and Butch at the Busted Steer. I’ll have my men question them."

Mickey caught a hint that the sheriff genuinely hadn’t heard about the girls before he just mentioned it. "I’d ask them yourself, Sheriff. Seems your men didn’t inform you that the girls were the ones who placed the call for help."

Conroy glared. "I don’t rightly know who did call for help, but I have seen the boys in the hospital and sat with their frightened families. I also know that the Mayor and the head of the Chamber of Commerce, not to mention the coach of the high school football team are all spitting bullets that the best football player this town has seen in decades is now on the injured list. Kevin Bishop, the team’s tight end, has a broken leg and that means the finish of any dreams he might have had of playing football in the majors." He looked like he had just thought of something himself when he glanced at Mickey. "You say the boys were at the Busted Steer drinking and then followed some girls out?"

Mickey nodded. "The girls left and a few minutes later the boys got up and headed out. I left a minute later, after I paid my bill and said good-bye to Maryann. I was driving, on my way to the Dew Drop In Motel, when I saw the cars pulled off to the side of the road."

"You been drinking?" The sheriff held Mickey’s eyes in a hard stare.

Mickey permitted a smile to form on his lips. "It’s been thirteen years since the Miranda ruling Sheriff. I believe I haven’t been told my rights, and that includes a phone call to my lawyer."

"See there!" Conroy burst out, "Just as I was beginning to believe in your story, just as I thought you might be a stand-up kind of man, you go and want to get all lawyered up on me!"

"Well, you know us ex-cons, that’s all we know, our rights…"

With a real look of disappointment on his face, Conroy shook his head, "I thought you might be better than that."

"Seems I’m no better than you are," Mickey shot back, angry that Conroy was trying to play a guilt game on him, "since your department’s putting together false charges against me and your men somehow managed to lose the witnesses that would backup my story."

The Sheriff’s face went three shades darker in anger, "Lookee here son, I’m letting you know the charges against you, and that your arraignment and bail hearing will be on Tuesday. People here in this town don’t take kindly to a drunk, crazed killer, ex-con, Vietnam vet, beating up on our children!"

Making an enormous effort to control his fury, letting his anger color his voice so that even to himself, his soft-spoken words dripped venom, Mickey said, "Right, and don’t you make no nevermind that those children are grown males, who were so drunk their brains took orders from their peckers and the six of them tried to rape two women."

Angry, Sheriff Conroy walked through the cell door, slammed it shut and glared through the bars at Mickey. "I’ve been the Sheriff in this town for over twenty years, Mister, and I don’t tolerate your kind of behavior round these parts."

The Sheriff took a deep breath, betraying the effort to control his temper, "I also don’t permit my men to hide or lose witnesses. You can bet your eyeteeth that I run a good Sheriff’s department and that come hell or high water, I’ll get to the bottom of this!"

"What about my phone call?" Mickey again made his voice neutral.

"Don’t worry Mister Kostmayer, you’ll get your blasted phone call, but not until I get one of my men to come in here and read you your Miranda rights."

Conroy slammed his hand on the bars of the cell, reminding Mickey that he was behind them. "I wouldn’t want your rights to be violated. And sure as sure shooting, I ain’t going to give your lawyer any reason to get you a free ride out of doing the time for your crime." The sheriff gave Mickey one more hard look and walked away.

Well, Mickey closed his eyes again, I suppose I’d better think of who I’m going to phone with that one call. Too bad I don’t know any lawyers.

For a moment he let his mind slide back to the running river and the peaceful scene around him there. He looked toward the horizon and again noticed the other fisherman. Suddenly he recognized him.

Robert McCall.

~~~~~~~~~

Mickey had been sitting on his bunk with his back against the wall repeating numbers to himself for the two hours since the Sheriff left. He had been hoping that he would get his phone call as soon as possible, but now the clock on the wall said 4am and Mickey wasn’t sure McCall would even answer a phone at such an early hour. After all, McCall hardly knew him and it was only 5am in New York.

He allowed himself to fall into a light doze. It was the way he had spent most of his nights in Leavenworth. He only got deep sleep during those times he had been put into solitary. That was the only time he had felt safe, with no other man near him. He had permitted himself rest in prison but never the forgetfulness of deep sleep.

In his mind, he suddenly saw the green Texas prison walls closing in, inch by inch. His eyes flew open; his lungs weren’t working! There wasn’t any air. His heart was thumping hard and he forced himself to look around. He whispered to himself, "It’s a big room. Big."

An old black man wearing the uniform of a prisoner was mopping the floor outside Mickey’s cell. He peered rheumy eyes at him, "You say something?"

Mickey swung his gaze around the room again. "There must be pounds and pounds of air here? Right?" Mickey asked, his voice sounded strangled.

The old man shrugged. "The air’s sitting on us, wearing us down, like time wears us down."

"Yes, there’s plenty of air here," he said, almost to himself. He felt his heart rate slow and Mickey breathed deeply. "In Nam," he said to the old man, "I was a demolition expert and a gofer. I jumped into the tunnels that the Cong used as the access to underground bunkers. Man, I don’t know how many times I slipped into the earth and pulled myself along, belly and back touching the sides of the black tunnels, air thick and hard to breath. There was no light, and no guarantee that the target bunker would be empty, yet me and my partner crawled into the earth with only the making of a bomb strapped to our bodies."

"Yeah?" The old prisoner leaned on his mop, "I heared that you was a veteran."

"If I wasn’t scared of crawling through the earth, surrounded by tons of soil that could have buried me at any moment, why the hell am I claustrophobic now?" Mickey forced his lungs to take in as much air as he could. God, he wanted the fresh air that he had tasted just yesterday.

"Because God was in charge if you lived in wartime," the old man said, "But here boy, there’s The Man in charge of your fate, and that-a-way, you ain’t got no chance of hope." He shook his gray head, "Like I got no choice when to mop these floors. The Man say wash’em down in the early morning hours and I do it." He continued sliding his mop across the hallway until Mickey was alone again.

To calm down, Mickey again repeated numbers to himself.

It must have been during his second meal on the road – McDonald’s he remembered – when he thought he had lost the card with McCall’s private contact number. At the time he noticed it missing, Mickey had no intention of using it and was surprised by the hot panic that flashed over him. After a few crazed moments, he found the card jammed down by the dashboard. He had puzzled over that reaction for the rest of the day and in the end had put it down to his gratitude to McCall.

Right away, he began to memorize McCall’s number, and then over the next days he had used it as some of the Hindus he had worked with had used their sacred words, as a mantra. Somehow he had known that he would see McCall again. Only he had never dreamed that it would be because of another false arrest.

He closed his eyes again, trying to rest.

How old was that old prisoner, swabbing the floor? Mickey’s mind wandered. Was that going to be him in twenty years if he was found guilty of another crime he didn’t commit? What the hell was going on in his life? He had been happiest in ‘Nam and afterwards, Cambodia, as a fighting man, racing death and the horrors of war. If he grew old in this Texas jail, would he be like that old guy, spouting downtrodden sayings, mopping floors, watching time go by?

And when he got out, would he remember Vietnam as his best days and spend his days haunting Chinatowns in America, looking for his lost youth; looking for the sounds and smells that would bring back the good times of war?

Jesus no, please God.

Suddenly he felt the presence of someone outside his cell. Mickey opened his eyes. It was the tall blonde deputy; the one who had been darting hate-filled looks in his direction since he first saw him. Now the deputy stretched his thin lips in a smile, to reveal a mouth too full of teeth. His eyes were still radiating a glowing revulsion.

Mickey made sure to keep his own gaze disinterested.

The deputy stretched his smile even farther when he saw Mickey looking alert. "Sheriff called, told us to let you have that phone call now," his voice was a deep drawl.

Mickey stepped down off the bunk in a slow and deliberate way. He had known men like this deputy before. Those were the guys you had to step around just like you would a half-readied pipe bomb.

"I’m Deputy Bishop. The sheriff told Deputy Johnson to take you to the phone, but as I am his senior officer, I relieved Johnson of that duty. I’m going to take you for your call myself." The deputy was grinning widely, a dangerous sight.

"Where’s the phone?" Mickey asked. He decided the glow of madness and the light sheen of sweat covering the deputy’s face made going anywhere with him a bad idea.

Deputy Bishop took a small business card from his pocket and moved to the bars of Mickey’s cell. "Here, boy," he aimed his smug smile at Mickey, "Here’s the card of the public defender hereabouts. We found all that cash in your car, and we have a good idea that an ex-con like you didn’t come across a wad of money and that car in a legal way." He wagged the card in-between the bars. "This here lawyer’s name of Weinstein. He’s one of them people, you know," one glowing eye winked, "He’s liberal and a right good lawyer – so's I hear."

Mickey slowly moved to the opposite end of the cell, keeping his hands visible and to his sides. "I have my own lawyer to call."

"That might be true, boy, " The deputy held the card extended in the tips of his fingers, "but I’d advise you to stick with this here Weinstein. He knows this town, and he knows that this whole incident is going to be painful for everybody hereabouts. Our best and brightest kids was hurt. Weinstein can get this whole problem tucked away and maybe you’ll get a lesser charge if we get this incident resolved just as fast as it can be."

Mickey knew he should keep quiet. He’d faced men with barely contained violence in them before, and he knew that his best bet would be to yes him and then do what he wanted. But Mickey felt his control slipping. The taste of three days of freedom had ruined the lessons of jail; he had lost a lot of his learned patience. He wanted to get out from behind bars; he wanted his freedom so bad his teeth ached.

But, taking another long look at the deputy, he drew in a deep breath and remembered his SEAL training. He was a man with the patience to put together and take apart bombs, and this lawman was just about to go off bad as any flaming foogas packed with white phosphorus. "I have a lawyer," he repeated calmly.

"Right, we thought so." The deputy’s voice became harsher as he spoke, "A crazy killer, Vietnam vet, must have a whole slew of lawyers that he’s used. But that don’t make no never mind here, boy. We got you down cold. We got beaten kids, witnesses and a town willing to prosecute a no-good piece of trash like you!"

Mickey spoke up, "I stopped a bunch of drunken kids from raping two innocent women." Suddenly the tension in the room thickened, Mickey felt it on his skin like electricity. "I didn’t do anything wrong and if this department has any integrity, then it’ll be proved."

"Ain’t no women involved in this here fight," the deputy said, "I talked to the boys and that’s what they’re saying. All they was doing was driving away from the roadhouse. They were propositioned by two whores inside earlier, but there weren’t no women anywhere near the fight scene."

Mickey frowned. Where were Angie and Dot? They called the incident in; they had to be part of this investigation. "Check your facts officer. The kids, as you call them, were going to brutalize two woman. The women were the ones who called the cops in the first place. They’ll testify that I was stopping a bunch of sick drunks from acting worse than animals."

The deputy, his face now a deep red, grabbed at the bars and shook them violently, "You lying somebitch," he seethed, "You beat up a bunch of kids. Good kids. My brother Kevin is one of those kids, you bastard."

Shit! Mickey felt the blood drain from his face. Kevin, the law’s brother?

"Kevin was going to get on that high school football field and show his stuff to the big colleges. He was going to make it big time and you, you crazy con, you ruined it all. You broke his leg and now his future’s all gone!" His eyes were wide and slightly bulging, spittle flew from his mouth. He slipped the key into the lock, and started to pull the cell door open "You’ve ruined his life. You’ve ruined it for us all!"

Mickey moved as far away from the cell door as possible. He hoped at least one of the other deputies was around to hear the yelling and try to keep this crazed man off him. If not, he would have to take care of it himself, and that would make matters worse.

Deputy Bishop was breathing hard, "So help me, we both know you deserve to be locked up. Them two tramps was asking for trouble, waiting outside of the roadhouse for them young boys to follow them."

"So you do know they were there." Mickey said.

"I know plenty! I know that them tramps was going to sell their favors but you butted in and beat the kids up! What were you, jealous? Didn’t the whores want to go with your sorry ass and you decided to take them from the kids?"

Mickey knew that he had to get help from the outside, and he needed to get to the phone to do that. If he didn’t, some time soon he’d be buried under this Texas jail. "I want my phone call."

"Call Weinstein, boy!" Bishop yelled again and then brought his voice down to a quiet hiss. "Ain’t no one going to find them girls to testify for you. No one else even seen them or knows they was part of this. I was the one answered their call from out by the road, and I made damn sure that they knowed that they’d be prosecuted for prostitution if they stuck around. They went back to the motel and packed up and hit the road before you even got to the station. They’re long gone by now."

Mickey felt his pulse hitch up faster. "But they were there. That’s the reason the boys were in the woods, they can’t all lie their way out of that fact."

"I went straight to the boys after hearing about what happened from them tramps. Ain’t none of them gonna say they saw no girls. All they reported was that you ran them off the road in that cherry Thunderbird and that you was a crazy man, using all your Navy SEAL know-how to ambush them!"

Mickey felt a noose around his neck.

"I let them in on enough about your background to make a solid case on you. The boys know what to keep quiet about and what to yell from the rooftops. Get it into your head, ain’t nobody going to believe you about nothing. There ain’t no girls to be seen, you’re just a crazy veteran who done broke open the heads of underage kids!"

Mickey didn’t want to believe it. Damn it, they had a tight case against him. "You got no right to …"

"I got every right in the world! You ruined my brother’s football career and I’ll be damned if he’s going to go to prison for rape because someone like you come into town and decided to butt in." The deputy stepped close to Mickey, his eyes open wide. Mickey could smell the hot odor of hate radiate off the lawman as he pushed the little white card into Mickey’s collar.

He slapped Mickey on the chest, over the card. "I suggest you keep quiet about the girls and the attempted rape. Do your time, boy. If you continue to keep flapping your mouth, saying the sons of this town’s most important citizens were tying to commit a heinous crime, it’s going to backfire on you."

Mickey withdrew back into himself then, letting his face show nothing.

"Time for your phone call, boy. I told Mr. Weinstein to be waiting on you."

Bishop took Mickey by the arm. As he permitted himself to be led away, Mickey hoped for a flicker of insight on how to get out of this predicament.

They got to a hallway, passed two other deputies that stared bullets at him and finally got to a desk with a black phone sitting on it. Deputy Bishop picked up the receiver and handed it to Mickey.

Fishing Weinstein’s card from inside his shirt, Mickey stood staring at the card, his mind racing. "What I say to my attorney is private. I don’t want to call Weinstein with you listening in."

"Hear that, boys?" deputy Bishop called to the other lawmen, "Says he wants to be alone!" He turned back to Mickey with a sneer on his face, "This is just a phone call to contact your lawyer, it ain’t no privileged conversation."

Mickey put the phone receiver down. "I’m not too sure about that. I guess I’ll just tell the Sheriff that you wouldn’t allow me my phone call after he said I should have it."

Visibly incensed by his answer, Bishop pushed him. Mickey made certain to fall across the table, pushing the phone as he tumbled down. Everything on the desk hit the floor with a resounding clatter.

On the floor, Mickey stayed very still, not moving a muscle.

"Get up! I didn’t hit you." Bishop grabbed Mickey by the shoulders and tried to pull him up, but Mickey stayed limp and Bishop dropped him back to the concrete floor. He heard the other two deputies come running.

"Wayne, Wayne!" Mickey could feel another man’s shadow hover over him, "What the hell you doing?"

"I didn’t do nothing, Johnson," Bishop said, "The little shit’s playing possum. I didn’t push him that hard."

"Shit!" Johnson yelled, "Sheriff Conroy told me to get the prisoner to the phone. Now he’s all busted up and unconscious! What the hell am I gonna tell Conroy?"

"Don’t tell him nothing," the third deputy’s voice sounded. "He just tripped and hit his head. Bishop, get outta here. We’ll only get into trouble if the Sheriff knows that you were the one with the prisoner. He ordered that we shouldn’t let you near the guy, ‘cause of your brother. Go. We’ll take it from here."

Mickey groaned loudly and opened his eyes. Bishop sneered down at him.

"Just make sure he gets his damned phone call." Bishop placed a heavy booted foot on Mickey’s chest. "Do as you were advised, boy, make the call I told you and you might just get out of this in a few years."

As Mickey felt the weight of the boot come off his chest, he saw the deputy smile his too toothy grin once more, and then Mickey saw a glob of spit come at him and felt it land on his face.

With every muscle straining, Mickey forced himself to remain unmoving on the floor. The other deputies looked at Bishop.

"Wayne, you’d better go now." Johnson said.

"Yeah, this one’s got no more fight in him, we’ll take it from here," the third deputy said, "You’d better go before the sheriff gets back."

"You boys are right. I’d better go see how my brother and mama are doing." Bishop hitched his trousers up and walked down the hallway. "I’m also gonna see the other boys. I want to talk to the ones still in the hospital, the ones he hurt the most." He turned a corner and Mickey just heard his heels hitting the floor as he walked away.

Deputy Johnson helped Mickey up, picked up the phone and sat him down by the desk. "Here’s the phone, make your call."

With a set idea in mind, Mickey wiped the spit from his face and dialed the number he had used as his personal mantra. He knew McCall was his only hope.

~~~~~~~~~

Mickey was lying on his bunk, watching the second hand of the clock on the wall outside his cell. He was trying to remember the names of all of his classmates in High School. He had passed the time, since his quick phone conversation with McCall, remembering names and dozing fitfully.

He could hardly believe that McCall, without even asking about it twice, had agreed to help him again.

The loud crash of the outer door to the cellblock opening woke him with a start. Shit! He’d fallen asleep!

Deputy Johnson walked over to his cell. He was wearing a clean, pressed uniform shirt and the aroma of his aftershave nauseated Mickey. The bastard must have bathed in the stuff.

Johnson kicked the bars of his cell, "Kostmayer! Get over here."

Taking as long as he could, Mickey ambled over to the bars and stood facing the deputy. "What?"

Johnson smiled, "Some fancy looking dude with a funny accent and a government ID is here to see you."

Mickey’s heart leapt. That must be McCall. He was the only fancy looking dude that Mickey could claim to know. Still it wouldn’t hurt to appear disinterested about the meeting. "Who is it and what does he want?"

"How in tarnation should I know? He says he’s here to see you," Johnson moved closer to the bars, "And to tell you the truth, I don’t envy you at all. That guy is cold."

He gestured Mickey to stand still while he undid the cell door and attached chains to his wrists and ankles.

"Why’re you trussing me up like this now?" Mickey asked, "I wasn’t chained last night when I got my phone call."

Johnson tugged the handcuffs tighter. "Well, that was Bishop’s call last night, now it’s the Sheriff’s call. He’s talking to your government man and I guess he wanted to show him that even a small town lawman can do things right. And friend, you’re the biggest desperado we got right now."

Satisfied that all was secure, he waved Mickey towards the door, letting him walk in front.

To Mickey, just being out of the cell again felt good.

When they went into the main office, all conversation stopped as he was pushed through it towards an interview room. He ignored the hostile stares of the other deputies.

When Mickey got to the interview room he saw the most welcome sight he could think of, Robert McCall, was standing with his back to the door looking out of the window. Mickey breathed a sigh of relief. Somehow he knew everything would be okay now.

McCall and the sheriff turned and looked at Mickey, regarding him silently.

The silence started to stretch out and the sheriff was the first to speak, "I’ll leave you two alone then."

McCall nodded. "Thank you Sheriff Conroy. I wonder, could someone take the chains off Mr. Kostmayer here? I am sure he won’t give me any trouble."

Conroy shook his head. "I think I ought to warn you that this man is highly trained and can kill with his bare hands."

McCall offered the sheriff a wintry smile, "I think I can defend myself adequately."

To Mickey the sheriff seemed about to argue but then after a closer look at McCall he shrugged. Pulling a bunch of keys out of his pocket, he began to unlock the manacles.

"Hmm, well okay. But we’ll be right outside the door, you just holler if you need us."

McCall waited until the sheriff had left the room and closed the door behind him. He turned to Mickey. "All right, young man, I want to know what the bloody hell happened. I only left you four days ago and already you look worse than when I got you out of Leavenworth."

Mickey collapsed onto a wooden chair that was bolted next to an old beat up table. "They’re saying I went after a group of high school kids and beat them up for no reason. They found my record and think I’m just a burned out, crazy ex-con."

"I know what they are saying. How about you telling me what really happened."

Mickey knew his face had betrayed him. "You mean, you believe me?"

McCall glared at him. "I wouldn’t be here if I thought otherwise. I’ve read your record; I made a study of you when I first came across the Leavenworth charges. You may have a reputation as a loose cannon, but you are not the type to take on unarmed children without a good reason." He looked away from Mickey for a moment. "I read about the Vietnamese boy whose life you saved in 1974."

Mickey flashed on the face of Pham Huu Tien and smiled. "He was a good kid." He took a deep breath to shake off the old memory. "OK, bare facts: I checked into the motel around seven. I threw my bags in my room and headed out for the roadhouse that the woman behind the reception desk recommended. It’s called the Busted Steer.

"I know all that, I got a hold of the documentation coming over here. Just tell me how you wound up in that clearing surrounded by beaten teenagers."

"The kids somehow snatched two women after they left the roadhouse. Their names are Dot and Angie, travelers from New Jersey, who were staying at my motel. They had been sitting near the teens at the roadhouse, but the women didn’t want anything to do with them. After dinner, I was on the road on my way to the motel, I heard shouting and broke up an attempted gang rape. That’s it."

Robert studied him, with an interested look on his face. "The reports didn’t mention any women. Do you know where they are now?"

Mickey nodded, "One of the deputies has been making threats to try to get me to confess. His name’s Bishop, the brother of the ringleader of the kids. First cop on scene, he told the girls that they would be arrested for prostitution if they hung around and gave statements. Bishop told me himself the girls were so scared they hightailed it. He made sure the boys didn’t mention them either. He’s been able to cover up his brother’s attempted rape.

McCall nodded and headed towards the door.

Mickey looked up, feeling surprised and a little let down, "That’s all? That’s all the information you need?"

McCall stopped for a moment and looked at Mickey. "Leave it to me, young man." He was about to walk out when he turned at the doorway, "Oh and Mickey, try not to get into any more trouble while I’m away."

The door had closed behind him before Mickey could make any sort of reply.

~~~~~~~~~

Mickey had been back in his cell for no more than an hour when suddenly, he noticed that the few other prisoners that had been passing through his section of the jail had all disappeared. The place had become too quiet. He kept his back to the wall and his eyes open as he heard a pair of footsteps move toward him.

"Mister Kostmayer," Deputy Bishop stood on the outside of the bars in the hallway, "You’ve been uncooperative haven’t you?"

Mickey remained still. He clenched his jaws shut, refusing to permit himself to make a sound.

"I heared you didn’t do like I told you boy. You didn’t call Weinstein did you?" Bishop was beside himself with anger. "The Sheriff told me that a government man come in here and asked to speak to you," Bishop stood close, pushing his face tightly between the bars, "Didn’t I tell you to use Weinstein and then maybe you’d get out of this in a few years, didn’t I?" He grabbed the bars, "Don’t you know what you did? You ruined your chances. And boy, that’s a darn shame." Bishop took out the key, inserted it into the lock and opened the cell door.

Mickey shook his head. "Don’t try anything Bishop, I got an outside man on my case now. My investigator, McCall, is going to find all the evidence I need to prove my innocence to your District Attorney and the judge and the people of this town! It’s all going to come out."

Bishop grinned that mad, toothy smile. "Then, it’s up to you to call your dog off."

"No reason to."

Beckoning his hand to someone outside the cell, Bishop turned to laugh at Mickey.

Another man stepped to the hallway. Standing at ease, his hands hung loosely at his hips, he was tall and powerfully built, with a barrel chest and tree logs for arms. Receding hair was combed straight back, highlighting a jagged a scar running through his left eyebrow that shone white in the jail’s light. His nose had been broken a few times and never set. But the worst things were his eyes: cold, dead, unblinking eyes.

"This here’s Bubba,’ Bishop said, "his family’s been a part of this town since it was taken away from the Mexicans." Bishop stood close enough so that his breath, although scented with peppermint, still worked to water Mickey’s eyes with its alcohol content. "Bubba’s sister has a boy on the football team."

Bubba entered his cell and stood just inside the bars.

"You beat his nephew up last night." Bishop hissed, "and Bubba ain’t at all happy with you." He turned from Mickey and stepped next to the brawny man, "Bubba here was also in ‘Nam, and he’s humiliated that a fellow Veteran has acted so badly, dishonoring the name of the soldiers that fought and died there."

In a voice that was a deep, whisky-colored drawl, Bubba spoke. "3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines. Got home in ’67, honorable discharge, two purple hearts."

Mickey went into the usual identification ritual. "I upped in ’71, SEAL team One, NSWG Coronado …

"Pansies." Bubba said.

Mickey stopped dead still. Son of a bitch!

Bishop patted Bubba’s shoulder, "Yep, Bubba’s been home more than ten years now. Unfortunately Bubba run into a little trouble hereabouts and done some time up at Huntsville, didn’t you Bubba?"

Mickey made himself go quiet as he judged Bubba’s stance. He decided on the best points of the body to hit if any trouble started. To his chagrin Mickey noted that his chin only came to the height of Bubba’s pecs, but he made sure to meet the big man’s eyes and not waver.

"Unfortunately my friend here," the deputy said, "is going to get arrested for driving without a license this evening and then he’s going to take a swing at me, so he’ll be doing time in this jail tonight. And, since the jail is so crowded, we might just have to double him up with you."

Mickey knew that most of the cells were empty; he knew what was being set up. Anger was building and he had the urge to blow up and tear into these two men, but he stood his ground.

Bishop smiled again, "Unless you call that McCall man off right now, you gonna have a bad night, boy."

Bubba reached behind his own back and pulled a two-foot long cut of broomstick out and showed it to Mickey. It must have been hidden in the waistband of his pants.

"I learned all sorts of skills in prison and as a Marine," Bubba intoned without taking his eyes off Mickey, "I know how to take a man apart and piece him back together without nobody seeing the scars."

Bishop called out then, sounding festive, "Now, Kostmayer, we don’t want that to happen to you, now do we? Your man McCall isn’t going to find anything out different than what’s been said. The whole town’s against you and wants a piece of your hide for hurting their kids. You’re bound for jail and that’s that. Weinstein’s your only hope for a lesser sentence. All you have to do is get rid of that Limey, call in Weinstein and do the time that you deserve."

"I don’t deserve any time at all." Mickey breathed.

"You ain’t listening boy!" Bishop barked, "Not one damned person is going to stick up for you in this town. You’re foreign friend is going to be met with a tall Texas wall of silence. He’ll just start people to talking and asking bad questions -"

"Bad for you Bishop," Mickey said. "The whole truth about the rape and your interference is going to come out."

"No boy, it won’t. It’ll be all-bad for you. Call him off damn it, or Bubba here’s gonna be your cellmate tonight, and every night, until you learn to do as I tell you."

Mickey saw a muscle in Bubba’s jaw start to jump, but he didn’t move his eyes away. The big man lifted the wooden broom handle and began to stroke it, up and down its length. He displayed a half smile at Mickey, and then blew him a wet kiss. Letting out a deep-chested laugh, he turned and walked out of the cell through the hallway and out of Mickey’s sight.

With a nod of his head Bishop followed Bubba’s passage. "Bubba can do things to a body that defies the laws of nature. I’d hate to think what he could do to your tender flesh."

Mickey glared at Bishop for a minute and said, "He could try."

Then he turned away, jumped up on his bunk and sat with his back to the wall.

~~~~~~~~~

Hours later, Mickey paced around the cell some more; he hadn’t heard a thing from McCall all day. It was evening mealtime now, and like with all the other meals served in the jail, Mickey ignored the tray of food. There was no way he was eating anything that these bastards could tamper with. Bishop had already proved that had crossed over line from sanity and that meant there was nothing he wouldn’t do to get Mickey convicted or out of the way.

The way he saw it, Sheriff Conroy was too concerned about keeping the town’s officials happy and keeping his badge to worry what went on in his jailhouse.

Mickey thought about Bubba. He was a big guy and looked as though he knew all about fighting dirty, but he didn’t have Mickey’s months in Leavenworth to sharpen his survival instincts.

He was deep in thought when the outer door opened and Bishop appeared at the door to Mickey’s cell. "Your man McCall is back to see you." When Mickey didn’t reply, he went on, "This is your last chance, boy. You remember what I told you about calling him off and talking to Weinstein?"

Mickey looked at Bishop and could see the spittle on the man’s mouth; he was losing it fast. Bishop banged on the bars of the cell, "Did you hear me, boy?"

"Yeah, I heard you."

Bishop gestured over at the clock on the wall, "Look at the time. It’s nearly eight o’clock. If I don’t hear from Lawyer Weinstein that you’ve asked to see him before midnight, I guess I’m gonna have to have Bubba moved in with you." He smiled at Mickey, "Being so overcrowded here and all."

Mickey waited while Bishop attached the chains to his wrists and ankles once more and then he walked to the room where he had met McCall that morning. Bishop took the restraints off and then, as soon as the door had closed, Mickey sank into one of the chairs bolted to either side of the small table and looked expectantly at McCall.

McCall pushed a fast food bag over at the younger man. "I saw from your record that you had been a guest of the Pathet Lao prison camp in Vietnam and you’ve intimate experience with the effects of food tampering. I guessed that you wouldn’t be eating anything here. And although this wouldn’t be my choice for food, I rather thought you’d appreciate it."

"You’re right, thanks." Mickey took the bag gratefully. The smell of the food was making his mouth water and he had to force himself to eat the burger and fries slowly.

McCall started to talk right away. "I’ve spent the day going in circles. Bishop seems to have covered his tracks very well. I spoke to the people at the roadhouse and they admitted that there were two women there, but that they left at least ten minutes before the boys did. I got the waitress to tell me what had happened but she just said that the girls had refused the drinks that the boys wanted to buy for them."

Mickey swallowed quickly, "They did, I saw that. Those idiots tried, at least twice, to pay for beer and Dot – the smaller of the two – kept saying no. Angie – the one that was taller and stacked – got upset when one of the boys got fresh with her when they turned them down the second time. I saw the girls leave and Angie was searching in this big red bag she was carrying for their car keys as they went out the door. When the teens didn’t leave for at least ten minutes I made the stupid assumption that they were long gone and safe."

"You couldn’t have known what would happen." McCall paced around for a moment deep in thought, "I need to talk to those girls. They are independent of this town and the only ones who can back up your story."

"They might not be too happy to talk to you, Bishop threatened to arrest them for prostitution."

"Leave that to me. Just tell me everything you can remember right from the time they walked into the roadhouse."

Mickey took the last bite of his burger and chewed slowly, thinking hard. "They came into the roadhouse when I was ordering dinner. They looked as though they had been traveling for a long time. Then, when I heard their accents, I knew they weren’t local. I guessed they were from Jersey and was proved right later on when they told Maryann that they were heading across the country to work for Dot’s uncle, who had a business in Houston."

McCall had taken out a pad and was taking quick notes.

"Later, when I was driving back to the motel, I saw the license plate on their car and that rang the alarm bells for me. It seemed too much of a coincidence to have two cars from Jersey in such a small town. When I looked inside the car, under some of the boy’s high school jackets on the back seat, I recognized Angie’s bag

McCall interrupted, "So, no idea of a family name?"

Mickey chewed slowly then shook his head, "No none. I didn’t look inside the bag."

"How about the license plate – can you remember any of the letters or numbers?"

"Jeez it was dark. I don’t know that I can remember or that I even saw it."

"Try, Mickey. It might be all we have to go on and I didn’t get you out of one jail to let you rot in another right away. If you work with me you may well end up in Lubyanka but it will not be on a false charge – you can be bloody sure of that."

Mickey looked at McCall closely just to be sure he wasn’t joking, then he tried to concentrate.

Closing his eyes, Mickey went back over his drive from the roadhouse towards the motel. He remembered how bright the moonlight was; he remembered how he had been surprised at two cars being parked so close off the road. Then he had seen that one plate was from New Jersey; he had recognized the familiar cream color and black border at once. He tried to visualize the plate’s letters and numbers; they were black, around four inches high. When he got closer he had seen the words New Jersey and The Garden State.

Got it!

Mickey opened his eyes and smiled, "The license number is TAB -192"

"Are you sure?"

"Positive, that was the registration of the car."

"Good work." McCall walked around the room deep in thought for a moment, "Is there anything else you can tell me – anything at all?"

Mickey thought back, the face of one of the kids stuck in his mind. "Yeah. You could try talking to one of the kids, the one called Frankie. He didn’t seem too happy about what was going down. A couple of times he tried to call Kevin Bishop off."

"Good." McCall walked over and grasped the door handle, "I’ll get to work. You will try to stay out of trouble until I get back, won’t you?"

Mickey smiled; any trouble tonight wasn’t going to be of his making, that was for certain. "Sure, I won’t start a thing."

~~~~~~~~~

"Clear outta this corridor!" Bishop’s voice cut into the quiet of the hallway.

Heart racing, Mickey watched as the older black trusty who had been washing down the floor, picked up his mop and bucket. He took a quick pitying look at Mickey as he rushed past Bishop.

"I told you, you was gonna be sorry if you didn’t do like I said!" Bishop glared at Mickey. "What’s coming tonight is of your own doing, boy!" He inserted the key in the cell door, looked over to the side and nodded.

Mickey heard the sound of heavy footsteps get nearer. In a moment Bubba, wearing a small mirthless grin, entered the cell and nodded his head to Bishop. He looked as big as Mickey remembered.

Bishop chuckled then he said, "Call off your Limey friend or else tonight will be the start of many nights of hell for you. You can bet on that!" He slammed the door shut. "Do your damndest Bubba, just make sure that most of the damage can’t be seen too easy."

Bubba stood just inside the cell staring at Mickey. "You can take that to the bank, Deputy."

Both men stood still as Bishop’s mutterings faded away as he exited the cellblock.

Mickey reassessed the big man. Bubba was mostly hard muscle, with just the beginning of a beer gut. Mickey figured he kept in shape by beating up anyone not intimidated by his looks and build. Bubba might outweigh him in hard muscle, but Mickey’s stint in Leavenworth had made him into an expert on this kind of self-defense.

Bubba eyed Mickey, looking as if he were sizing him up. His voice was deep and threatening, "They say that at night, the screams you hear inside the joint are different than any other."

Mickey remembered those screams. It usually meant that some mother’s son was learning what it was like to be used as a woman for the first time.

Bubba chuckled, "Yeah, I can see you know that sound well, you little dickhead. I ain’t proud of it – mostly – but I gotta admit that I made more than a few growed men scream that scream. I’ve speared a few fish in my time."

Mickey let Bubba’s dead eyes plough into his for a few long moments.

"Ain’t you gonna say anything to me?" Bubba growled, "Don’t you want to beg me not to make you suffer for all the harm you brung onto my family?"

Mickey stared unblinking at Bubba as he walked towards him, only stopping when they were toe to toe.

"I didn’t do any harm to your family." Mickey kept his voice even, "Trying to rape and beat up on women is thought of as a criminal act ‘round where I come from. I’d say your nephew come by his own bad end ‘cause of the shit-for-brains he inherited from your side of the gene pool."

Bubba’s mouth twisted into a sneer. His ham sized fists grabbed onto Mickey’s shirt collar. Mickey knew that Bubba was about to try to slam him into the wall, so he grasped Bubba’ wrists as he stepped back, causing Bubba to go off-balance. Then he pivoted and swung his right hand over and punched Bubba in the face – hard. Bubba dropped to his knees. Mickey’s follow-up kick to his face slammed Bubba back into the opposite wall.

"Stay down, Bubba, I’m at the top of my form and I’ve protected myself from worse then you."

Surprisingly agile, Bubba jumped up onto his feet. Blood was dripping from the side of his mouth and he gave Mickey a death’s head grin. "You just bought yourself a whole world of hurtin’, boy." Bubba reached behind his back and pulled out the broom handle and showed it to Mickey. "By the time I’m finished with you, puke-brain, you’re gonna sing soprano."

Mickey had been concentrating on the broom handle and too late, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the blur of Bubba’s heavy work boot as it headed towards him. Starbursts exploded in his vision. Mickey’s thought processes broke down and he worked on instinct alone.

Mickey sensed the broom handle coming at him. With his vision partially returning, he took a step backwards to make Bubba come at him harder. Mickey then reversed his direction and exploded toward Bubba blocking his swing.

The two men were belly to belly now. Mickey’s bent arm flew up protecting his head as the other man aimed a blow at him. He tucked his head into his shoulder, keeping his eyes forward and chin down and powered a straight punch to the jaw. As Bubba reeled, stunned, Mickey wrapped his arm over, and then underneath the arm holding the broom handle, trapping it firmly. Pushing Bubba off balance with his shoulder, Mickey brought his knee soundly into the other man’s groin.

Things remained quiet for one full second as Bubba’s stark white face tipped back to look at Mickey. Then gulping for breath, he collapsed onto the floor, cupping his balls with his hands.

Mickey stepped away, bouncing on his toes, ready for Bubba’s next move. "Stay down, old man," Mickey couldn’t help but taunt, "SEALS are pansies, huh? Flabby assed Marines got nothing on Navy SEALS."

Bubba dry heaved and rolled facedown on the floor. Mickey was hoping he was down for the count, but he didn’t expect a tough street fighter like ol' Bubba to give up so easy. Sure enough, with an angry roar Bubba jumped up, his fists in position, ready to continue the fight.

Mickey felt adrenaline sing in his veins, his heart hammering hard. He faced Bubba and felt his own grin stretch over his mouth. This was more like it! This was an enemy he could see and feel. This was something he could handle directly, that he could control.

He tasted the copper tang of blood in the back of his mouth and knew that he was ready for anything.

~~~~~~~~~

Mickey altered his position on the cold floor of the cell and tried to ignore the stab of pain as his bruised ribs, head and knee complained. Over the past two days he had used more hand to hand combat than he had during any tour of duty and Lord did he feel worn-out, weak and hurting. It was nearly 5am. He was more than tired but there was no way he was going to risk sleeping with Bubba in the same cell.

It hadn’t been easy to take Bubba down. Like a snake that keeps moving even though its head’s been cut off, Bubba kept coming at him. In the end, Mickey managed to be the last one standing by landing a few punches fueled solely by the anger that had gnawed at him for those nine months in prison. Mickey had knocked him out cold and, he admitted to himself, it made him feel real good.

Since that last punch, Bubba had awakened long enough to groan, see that Mickey wasn’t interested in continuing the fight and to crawl into a bunk to sleep.

Mickey was getting anxious about Bishop showing up. The morning routine here started around six and the deputy wouldn’t want anyone else to know that he had sicced Bubba on him.

He rested his head on his knees and tried to conserve his strength. If McCall did it again and got him out of jail, Mickey pledged to whatever gods that be, that he would agree to go and work for the Company.

Just let McCall get me the hell outta this place.

When he heard footsteps outside the cell he put his left hand behind his back and gripped the piece of broomstick that Bubba had brought. Mickey stayed with his head down a moment longer, trying to get himself together to face Bishop down. He didn’t want any trouble, but if Bishop tried anything, Mickey wanted to be able to defend himself.

There was a metallic clang as the cell door swung half way open. Bishop stuck his head in, "Hey, Bubba let’s get a move on. The Sheriff’s in already."

Mickey tried to use the wall behind him to climb to his feet, but he couldn’t. Damn! He was weaker than he thought.

Bishop slipped into the cell, leaving the door partially open. "Looks like you all had a hell of a party last night." He used the toe of his polished boot to nudge Mickey’s leg. "You don’t look so good, boy, but Bubba’s sleeping like a log. I intend to give you some time to think things over but you need to plead guilty or your friend here is going to be your cell mate again tonight."

Mickey tried to think of a smart remark and couldn’t, his head hurt and his mind was fuzzy, "Bishop, I’d try asking Bubba about that if I was you."

Mickey saw him look over to where Bubba still appeared to be sound asleep on the bunk. Bishop rushed over and shook him and Bubba just groaned.

It took a good thirty seconds for Bishop to realize that Bubba was out of commission before he turned on Mickey. "You worthless piece of shit, I’m gonna wipe the floor with your good-for-nothing hide. My brother is worth ten of you."

Mickey was on the verge of trying to duck past the raging deputy when he heard a familiar voice and two sets of footsteps coming closer. He heard McCall say, "I mean it sheriff, unless you want an official enquiry and a lot of trouble for your department, I want Kostmayer out of jail right now."

Bishop looked around him frantically, his eyes wild.

"Whasa matter deputy?" Mickey managed to say, "One prisoner out cold and one on the floor looking like he’d been through a meat grinder isn’t exactly what you want the Sheriff to see, huh?" Mickey watched Bishop carefully. The man was being backed into a corner and like a trapped rat, he’d do anything to free himself.

Bishop’s crazed smile spread to his eyes. "Trouble in the lock-up!" Bishop screamed, "I got an injured man and the Vet’s going wild!" In what seemed like slow motion, Bishop pulled his baton from his belt and raised it over Mickey.

Mickey pushed himself away from Bishop’s reach, at the same time lashing out with the broom handle. It caught the deputy across the elbow and he howled in pain, grabbing for the bars of the cell door to steady himself. With a look of hatred at Mickey, he pulled the cell door shut with a sharp clang. Turning back he raised the baton, "You’re going to regret that you was ever born."

Mickey finally saw movement just outside the cell as Sheriff Conroy and McCall arrived.

"Put the stick down, Wayne," Conroy bellowed as he tried to pull the cell door open, but it had locked, "I know the truth. McCall here has got statements from the two girls your brother and his friends tried to rape." Conroy began to grab for the key to the door that was on a peg outside the cell.

"No!" Bishop hesitated, holding the baton up way above his head. He was foaming at the mouth and twitching with rage. "Don’t you see Conroy? This bastard ruined my brother’s life and he’s gonna pay."

Mickey was looking back and forth from Bishop to McCall outside the bars. McCall was just standing there, watching, with a mildly interested expression on his face.

What the hell…?

"Now, Wayne," Conroy said in a controlled manner, as he fumbled with the key, trying to fit it into the door, "this isn’t going to do anyone any good."

"Shut up you stupid old bastard," Bishop sputtered, lowering the baton and looking toward Conroy. "You’ve always been too soft for your own good." Bishop turned his interest back to Mickey and started to lift the baton once more.

"Stop Wayne, don’t do it" The Sheriff fumbled with the keys and pulled at the still locked cell door.

Mickey took one fast glimpse at McCall who seemed to be comfortable watching the scene play out. Flares of anger exploded in Mickey as he looked at Bishop preparing to bring the baton down on his head. With all his strength Mickey kicked out, hitting Bishop’s knee with his heel, bending it backwards and shattering the kneecap.

Bishop howled and fell backwards onto the floor, writhing in pain. Sheriff Conroy managed to open the cell door, ran in and took the baton from the frenzied, screaming deputy.

Mickey sat on the floor and looked at McCall, who was leaning casually on the cell bars.

"Nice job Mr. Kostmayer. I knew you had it in you."

Mickey tried to get up to wipe the smug look off McCall’s face but he found that he didn’t have the strength.

~~~~~~~~~

The first person Mickey saw when he woke was Robert McCall sitting in a chair beside his hospital bed. They had taken some x-rays and then put him into a private room, insisting that he needed to spend a night there for observation. Mickey had been surprised at the concern in McCall’s face; he hadn’t shown much emotion when Bishop was going to bash his brains out.

He shifted, trying to get comfortable and McCall noticed he was awake. "So, Mr. Kostmayer, you’re back with us again."

"Looks like it." Mickey tried to get comfortable against the pillows and failed, "No thanks to you," he mumbled.

"I beg your pardon? Did you say something?" McCall asked, his eyebrows raised nonchalantly.

"You just stood there, watching everything play out, Bishop might have killed me."

"Nonsense. I knew you had it in you to protect yourself. You didn’t need me or Sheriff Conroy to take care of you."

Mickey tried to read McCall’s expression.

Nothing.

"I was almost out of it McCall. Why’d you take the chance of Bishop braining me?"

The other man shrugged. "I didn’t see it as taking a chance Mr. Kostmayer." McCall’s gaze met his and neither looked away. "I rather knew that you could take care of the situation, I have faith in you. And, at any rate, if you couldn’t handle what was to come, then you weren’t the man I thought you were and you’d be of no use to me, nor to the Company." McCall stood and walked over to the door, "Now that you’re awake, I’ll see if I can get you something to eat, you must be hungry."

Mickey couldn’t speak for a moment; his thoughts were in a jumble. McCall wanted to see if he had it in him to save himself. "Hey, McCall…"

"Yes, Mickey?"

"Was that some sort of a test, to see if I could make a good agent for the Company?"

Mickey thought he caught the faint glimmer of a smile on McCall’s face.

"Is there anything in particular you would like?" McCall asked.

For some reason that hit Mickey as a sobering question.

Then the answer struck him.

After nine long months in prison he finally had his freedom and a chance at a life filled with action, adventure and the companionship of a man who had unwavering confidence in his abilities.

"No," Mickey answered, "I think I have everything I want – now."

 

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